Envoy tells American companies to lead by example, inspire students across Malaysia

US Ambassador to Malaysia Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir speaks to Malay Mail during an interview on October 3, 2019. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
US Ambassador to Malaysia Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir speaks to Malay Mail during an interview on October 3, 2019. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

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GEORGE TOWN, Oct 6 — United States Ambassador to Malaysia Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir has urged American companies based in Penang do their part in nurturing future talents in the country by reaching out to students across the country.

Lakhdhir said she had visited many Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) schools in various states in the country and found many students who could not imagine a better future for themselves.

“They don’t understand what their future is or could be, they don’t think English has any value for them, they don’t have models of people who have been successful to emulate,” she said.

She said it is up to American companies in Malaysia, not only Penang, and its employees to reach out to these students, especially those in low-performing SMKs.

“One of the many things all American companies can do is to represent, when you go there, they get to meet an engineer, a human resource professional, an IT expert,” she said during a speech at an event here recently, referring to the students.

She said American companies and its employees have the power to give this dream to young Malaysians and nurture them towards a brighter future.

Later, in an interview with Malay Mail, Lakhdhir elaborated on the importance of reaching out to students in low-performing secondary schools.

She said the US Embassy’s Fullbright English Teaching Assistants (ETA), introduced more than 13 years ago, was proven to be such a success that the number of young American graduates coming to Malaysia under the programme has expanded to 100.

Under the programme, which is jointly funded by the Education Ministry, American graduates are sent to 100 low-performing schools in nine states to organise English-related programmes and encourage them to learn English for 10 months.

“This is the third largest programme we have held of this type,” she said.

She stressed that the ETAs are not here to replace local teachers but to inspire students and even local teachers to have confidence in using English.

She said it was not about pushing the students to perform better in English in tests but for them to embrace the use of English in various fields.

“It is also a cultural experience for them to interact with someone from a different background, to engage with a young American who has different life experiences and different ideas,” she said.

Lakhdhir said this programme not only benefits the local students but also the ETAs who would have learned about Malaysian culture during their 10-month stay here.

“Malaysian teachers have been influenced by this experience and we have different programmes for teachers where they are sent to Oregon state in the US for training,” she said.

She added that the effects of the ETA programme is one that leaves a long-lasting impression on the Americans, some of whom she had reminded to come back and do something for Malaysia in future.

“I always tell them that Malaysia has hosted them for 10 months so it was only right that one day, they come back and do something for the country that had kindly hosted them and I am happy to find that some of them actually do that,” she said.

She said some came back for holidays while some returned to visit the friends they had made during their 10-month stint here.

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